Tag Archives: Australia

Beware of belittling

We discussed bullying in an article not so long ago, and workplaces continue to be fraught with bullies and their victims. Thus, we continue our quest to help employers and employees recognise bullying behaviour and deal with it appropriately.

Bullying behaviour may not be instantly recognisable, or you may not be able to point to one particular incident of bullying. Often bullying comprises of an accumulation of many small incidents over a long period of time. Many people do not realise that the unfavourable behaviour directed towards them is “bullying” behaviour. Victims may not want to report the behaviour for fear of not being taken seriously, or being told to “harden up”. Employers may see a victim as being overly sensitive rather than genuinely investigating their concerns. If bullying behaviour is not dealt with appropriately it can have detrimental effects on both the employer and the victim(s). Bullying is not something to be tossed aside and ignored.

Bullying behaviour includes (but is not limited to): 

  • using fowl or offensive language
  • nitpicking, fault-finding or trivial criticism
  • making threats
  • sarcasm, hostility or rudeness
  • interrupting
  • belittling
  • providing instructions without reasonable explanation
  • setting unreasonable goals or deadlines
  • refusing reasonable requests without justification
  • excessive scrutiny
  • refusal to acknowledge contributions or achievements
  • attempts to undermine value and worth
  • isolating, treating differently
  • denying training necessary to fulfil duties
  • initiating disciplinary procedures for trivial reasons

A notable decision of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australia is an excellent example of the importance of addressing bullying behaviour appropriately. In Swan v Monash Law Book Cooperative [2013] VSC 326 the employer was ordered to pay a total of just under $600,000 in damages to an employee who had been bullied over a 5 year period. It was found that the employer:

  • failed to properly define relations and expectations concerning workplace conduct;
  • failed to appropriately train employees to deal appropriately with bullying behaviour and complaints;
  • failed to consider appropriate measures to address inappropriate conduct, and a failure to inform the bully that his behaviour was inappropriate;
  • failed to intervene and investigate complaints within a timely manner when complaints were first raised;
  • failed to have a formal structure or complaints mechanism in place for employees to seek assistance when bullying occurred;
  • failed to monitor the situation;
  • failed to have a safe return to work strategy.

The Supreme Court’s decision demonstrates the onerous obligations on employers to ensure a safe and healthy workplace, and the high risks employer face if they do not comply. It is not enough to simply change a victims’ reporting lines, or transfer a bully from one team to another. Bullying can often occur because of a workplace’s culture or lack of policies and procedures addressing suitable and acceptable behaviour. Not only do these policies have to exist, but they need to be implemented appropriately and efficiently.

While New Zealand is slightly lagging behind Australia in relation to health and safety laws, and certainly in terms of compensatory awards in bullying cases, WorkSafe NZ’s bullying guidelines released in February indicate we are following in Australia’s footsteps in recognising the importance of cracking down on bullying behaviour. It is vital that employers have appropriate measures in place to deal with bullies and victims.

Image from http://888fulcrum.com/
Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What the F*** Do You Have to Do to Get Fired?

Dropping the F bomb at work might not get you fired according to the recent Australian decision concerning Adam Haliman, the fiery-tempered fish feeder who told his employer to get f—ed.

TESSA KATE HOGG  13/07/2012

Potentially appropriate times to let the f— flag fly…

  • An All Black loss to Australia. In the World Cup. After 20 years of choking.
  • When you pour your morning coffee on your new white shirt. Five minutes before an interview.
  • When your bus pulls away. After a 50m dash in the rain. Without you on it.
  • When your boss asks you to feed the tuna over the weekend…?

Potty mouthed employees everywhere can now breathe a sigh of relief. While the F-word might result in a few coins in the swear jar, letting it rip in the workplace is not necessarily cause for summary dismissal. The recent decision from the Fair Work Tribunal in Australia reflects a growing realisation that profanities don’t pack as much punch as they used to. Conversely, recent studies show they may even help mark solidarity, make friends and relieve stress.

When Adam Haliman, tuna feeder, was asked to work over the weekend he told his boss to “get f—ed, I’m not working in the f—ing weekend.” Soon Adam wasn’t working at all. His boss felt the double f-bomb was enough to get him fired from the job he had held for the past six years at Marnikol Fisheries in Port Lincoln Sydney.

However, when Adam took his case to the Fair Work Tribunal in Australia they found that while throwing around expletive-packed ammo is less than ideal in a work place, it does not automatically justify firing without prior investigation or hearing. The Tribunal maintained that the words were used for added emphasis as opposed to a form of abuse, in this particular circumstance where it was common knowledge that the worker’s partner was due to give birth the worker that weekend. Accordingly, they found the dismissal to be harsh and unjust. Remedies, be it compensation or re-instatement are still being mulled over as the parties bring forth the appropriate evidence.

Verbal vulgarity has historically tongue-tied the legal profession. In 1963, a Chicago prosecutor opening an indecency case against ‘four letter comedian’ Lenny Bruce famously stated, “I don’t think I have to tell you the term. I think that you recall it … as a word that started with f and ended with k and sounded like truck.” Yet, despite past struggles, there is a rising tide of wider public acceptance of swearing, and it is only natural that this has extended to both the workplace and, as shown by recent decisions, the courtroom .

The maritime and fishing industries are infamous for salty language; illustrated by the sayings ‘to swear like a sailor’ and ‘cuss like a fishwife’. Haliman says profanity use is embedded in the fishing culture “everyone swears there, it’s the fishing industry, we’re not in an office or a school”. So, although the language did create some cause for concern, the tribunal found that in the circumstances the dismissal was disproportionate to Haliman’s conduct.

Back here in Godzone, the case of cursing was considered in respect of an early childcare worker who was fired following an angry exchange with fellow campers. On holiday with her children at Kaiteriteri beach in Nelson, Justine McDonald allegedly not only threatened to pour a bucket of water on the heads of noisy camp neighbours, but also told them to f— off back to Christchurch.

While the fiery exchange didn’t occur during work time, McDonald was driving a company car of the childcare company she worked for. According to the employers, this reflected badly on the company who, after two disciplinary hearings, fired McDonald for yelling at and frightening children between six and 11 years. She took her case to the Employment Relations Authority and won on the basis that the company did not carry out a full investigation before dismissal. The Authority found that while she did swear at another adult, she did not swear at children and it was accepted that this was a ‘flash in the pan’ situation where friction had developed in cramped conditions, not grounds for a reasonable employer to dismiss. She was awarded 15,000 in damages and three months lost wages.

Recent Victoria University studies into how language is used in the workplace also gives common assumptions about swearing a kick in the a–. The 2003 study found that the use of the word f— in a factory worker setting could in fact develop team spirit and maintain team membership. Research director Professor Janet Holmes found that while expletives played a role in direct complaints they also were used to boost team morale by demonstrating that the speaker knows someone well, therefore differentiating between those in a team and outside. “Forms of f— occur frequently in certain contexts and serve a range of functions, including the role of positive politeness strategy. F— is regularly associated with expressions of solidarity, including friendly terms of address. It reflects the attitude that says that I like you, so I can be rude to you,” the researchers said.

This is a sentiment followed by Professor Kate Burridge, Chair of Linguistics in the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics at Monash University, Melbourne, who has a keen interest in tackling the topic of swearing and taboo language in antipodean English. “Studies show that if you’re with a group of close friends, the more relaxed you are, the more you swear,” Dr. Burridge says. “It’s a way of saying: ‘I’m so comfortable here I can let off steam. I can say whatever I like.’’

That said, swearing in the workplace is a prickly subject. This was recognised by the tribunal in Haliman, the tuna feeder’s case as so much of the meaning of words are both circumstantial and in the delivery. According to Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55% rule, a measly 7% of a message is in its literal meaning while 38% is in the tone of voice and 55% in body language. To a large degree this can explain the difference between the acceptance of a jovial f— and the offense caused by an angry f—.

Swearing directed at people is more of a problem in the workplace as it can be perceived as bullying or sexual harassment. The current legal test for bullying can be found in Kneebone v Schizophrenia Fellowship Waikato Incorporated and requires repeated actions, which are carried out with the desire to gain power or exert dominance and with the intention to cause fear and distress. And, yes, verbal bullying is included. In McGowan v Nutype Accessories Limited repeated verbal insults from a staff member which were directed at a general manager such as “ f— bastard”, “you’re f— disgusting, dead man” and “I’m gonna f— drop you, bastard”, were held to represent overt, extreme, persistent and offensive bullying.

So, it is important to know your crowd and tame your temper if you plan on directing the f-ammo at an actual target in your workplace. This is a lesson recently fired former Yahoo CEO and serial f-bomb dropper Carol Bartz knows all too well after raining torrents of emotional expletives onto staff. These included an infamous instance where she told yahoo employees she would “drop kick them to f—ig mars” if they leaked any information to the public. Other corporates have attempted to delete expletives at work. At Goldman Sachs all swearing is out after one very public “s—-y deal” in an internal email caused a PR nightmare for the company resulting in a ban on all obscenities in electronic communication.

Jim O’Connor, the creator of the “Cuss Control Academy” says that a total elimination of swearing isn’t necessary, but that it should be confined to situations of extreme emotion (hammer+thumb) or poetic licence (Rhett Butler’s “Frankly my dear”). He splits cursing into casual (mate, how the f— are you) and causal (the f—ing photocopiers f—ed!! ) and advocates the elimination of at least the casual in the workplace, as danger lies in the pervasive presence of profanity and its ability to sneak into situations where it is unwarranted .

So.. think twice before raining down a few cheeky f, s, c or b bomb at work, although studies show they may make you a few friends, as the tuna feeder found out, they are likely to do more immediate damage than they’re worth. The final word goes out to the Flight of the Conchords.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,